Ian Sansom has written a new book about paper, and the Guardian is running an excerpt from it. A characteristic anecdote:
Ephemeral, it reminds us eternally of the eternal. It is unsurpassed as a spiritual technology – the perfect multi-faith, multi-purpose platform for almost any religious event and occasion. Whether protecting ourselves with paper amulets, making offerings of votive slips, or nailing it to Wittenberg church doors, paper has the advantage over other popular spiritual technologies – such as, say, blood, animal carcasses, crystals, hairshirts, metal cilices, or Scientology E-meters – of being light, flexible, inflammable, capable of being decorated and inscribed, and not requiring batteries. Perhaps the purest expression of paper’s otherworldly aspects are Tibetan lungta papers (lung meaning “wind” and ta meaning “horse”), those beautiful, small, square pieces of thin paper that are thrown up into the air to carry prayers, to bless a journey, or just for good luck. Shide, white paper strips, are hung on ropes at Shinto shrines to mark the division between the sacred and profane. Hongbao – little red envelopes containing “lucky money” – are presented as a gift at weddings and at Chinese new year. Joss paper, or ghost money, is burned as an offering at funerals and at anniversaries, so that one’s ancestors might live prosperously and in peace.
In another passage he describes the vast amount of paper used by the artists of Pixar, though the examples he cites are a bit out of date, making me wonder whether the company has remained as attached to the pulpy stuff as it was.
The most popular drawing app for the iPad is called Paper, and it’s great — I use it a lot, just for fun — but of course paper is the one thing it can’t reproduce the look and feel of. Its pencil tool makes marks just like a pencil, its highlighting tool works just like a highlighter, but a slick, shiny glass screen is nothing like a piece of paper.
Paper — interestingly textured and colored paper — is the thing I find myself missing as I move more and more into a digital world: not writing on it with a pen (which is important to so many people) or seeing the look of type on it, but the paper itself. I wonder whether our genius engineers will ever manage, or indeed will ever try, to reproduce its most appealing features.